D-I newcomer Dixie State steps up to face No. 1 Gonzaga

NCAA Basketball

Dixie State took a big step up this season, moving into NCAA Division I.

The Trailblazers will face a ranked D-I team for the first time Tuesday night when they oppose No. 1 Gonzaga in Spokane, Wash.

Dixie State, from St. George, Utah, has been a consistent winner in D-II, compiling nine NCAA Tournament appearances and 287 victories in coach Jon Judkins’ 15 previous seasons.

“I’ve always wanted to coach Division I,” Judkins said. “I’ve always wanted to look at that, but I just never thought it would be as fast as Dixie State doing it as well. That’s pretty cool.”

The Bulldogs (8-0) will be playing for the second consecutive night after an 88-58 home victory against Northern Arizona on Monday. Guard Joel Ayayi had team-high totals of 17 points and 10 rebounds.

Gonzaga played without starting point guard Jalen Suggs, who hurt his right leg Saturday in the second half of the Bulldogs’ 98-75 win against then-No. 16 Virginia. The freshman, viewed as a potential lottery pick in the 2021 NBA draft, is putting up 15.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 2.6 steals per game.

“He tweaked his leg a little bit,” Bulldogs coach Mark Few said of Suggs. “It was bothering him on the flight home and then a little bit (Sunday), so we held him out. We’ll see how he does with warm-ups (Tuesday) and make a call.”

Even without Suggs, the Bulldogs hardly missed a beat against the Lumberjacks. They scored the game’s first 10 points and led 17-2 after just 4:27.

Andrew Nembhard, a transfer from Florida and a Canadian national team player, filled in for Suggs and had 10 points and a game-high seven assists in a team-high 30 minutes. Few went to his bench early, giving action to 12 players, 11 of whom scored.

Ayayi insisted the Zags aren’t tiring as they head into their third nonconference game in four days. They open West Coast Conference play Saturday at home against San Francisco.

“We just want to play basketball. A bunch of games have been canceled and we have a chance to play game after game in a short period of time,” Ayayi said. “We’re more about the opportunity and thankful for the opportunity to play games. Thinking about getting tired would be foolish.”

The Trailblazers (4-1) should be well-rested, having been idle since a 90-69 victory against Bethesda University of Anaheim, Calif., on Dec. 19. Dixie State has defeated D-I opponents North Dakota and Denver this season, with its only loss an 85-78 setback at Southern Utah.

The Trailblazers feature four players who average double-digit scoring: Jacob Nicolds (13.4 points per game), Frank Staine (12.4), Cameron Gooden (12.2) and Isaiah Pope (11.5). Nicolds also averages a team-high 6.8 rebounds.

“For us, what we don’t want to do is get into a half-court game with them, because then the size is going to affect us. So we want to get out and run,” Judkins said. “We’re going to push it and try to get in a track meet with a lot of teams and try to use our quickness. We want to run-and-gun a little bit.”

–Field Level Media

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